Don't Be Afraid to Appeal the Financial Aid Decisions You Receive for Your Higher Education
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Don't Be Afraid to Appeal the Financial Aid Decisions You Receive for Your Higher Education

you can potentially save thousands of dollars in higher education costs just by asking your chosen college for more money

May 27, 2021

Although college isn't for everyone, the fact remains that college graduates earn more today than high school graduates. Yet the cost of higher education often discourages many people from pursuing it. But many people don't know that the financial aid offer from the school doesn't have to be the final word on the matter. You can use these tips to reevaluate your financial aid decision to save money.

Know the numbers

If you didn't get as much financial aid as you were expecting, you can appeal the financial aid office's decision. The key is knowing the numbers that the financial aid office is using to calculate your offer. Rather than complaining about the cost, know how the decision came about and use that information to appeal the decision.

You should know the school's percentage of met need, which can be found by searching for your school at and looking at the "Money Matters" section of the result. This is the amount that the school guarantees it will cover. Whatever the school doesn't cover is your unmet need. Many schools guarantee 100% coverage of the demonstrated financial need for all of their incoming students.

Formulas on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) lead to your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your college will subtract your EFC from the cost of attending for one year, which will give the final financial aid estimate you'll need. If this financial aid offer doesn't line up with the school's percentage of met need, you can appeal the decision based upon the school's stated percentage of met need. So if the cost of attendance is $100,000 and your EFC is $20,000, you should expect financial aid of $80,000 if the stated coverage of met need is 100%.

Clear Up Problems and notify of changes

When you complete the FAFSA, you may not get the option to include all the data or details you want to include. For example, the application may ask for financial information about both of your parents, but you may not have any contact or association with one of them. Make this information known to the financial aid office. The office may be able to recalculate your EFC or aid package to adjust for this situation. You may be expected to provide supporting details or documentation.

Also keep in mind that things change from the time you apply for financial aid through the time when a decision is made. If your financial aid package is reduced because of your EFC and a parent dies after the application, your financial aid package may be recalculated based upon the new information. Special packages may be available depending upon your particular situation.

Ask for merit scholarships

The financial aid office only deals with need-based aid. If you want a bigger merit scholarship, you'll need to head over to your school's admissions office. Once you are accepted, you have to let the admissions office know that you'd like an incentive in order for you to choose that school over others. The job of the admissions office is to convert your acceptance offer into an enrollment and part of that conversion comes from offering merit scholarships to get you to enroll.

When negotiating with this office, you'll need to know the school's conversion rate, which is the percentage of accepted students that actually enroll. This number can also be found on under the "Admission" tab. If the conversion rate is low, the school may use more merit awards in order to incentivize the enrollment. But don't expect the school to simply offer it. You have to ask.

leverage one school against another

If you've been accepted to other schools with better financial aid offers, don't be afraid to use these offers to your advantage when you talk to the admissions offices. Think about it in simpler terms, such as buying a new car. When boiled down to the basics, you're negotiating the price of a college degree from one school to another just like negotiating the price of a car from one dealer to the next.

Leverage larger scholarships from a comparable school when you negotiate. But remember that this is a formal appeal process, so you should have some kind of documentation of the higher offer(s) you got from the other college(s). You can't necessarily use an expected offer, though it might help if you can show with facts that your other school typically awards a certain amount.

Every school is different, but you'll never know unless you try.

Challenge out-of-state tuition status

The cost of attendance is usually higher for out-of-state students, which are students who come to the state solely to receive an education. Many schools have formulas for determining who is classified in this category. But if you have been living in the state for several years prior to applying to the school, you should challenge this determination. It may be as simple as calling the admissions office and explaining the situation or may involve a formal appeal and hearing. You will likely have to provide documentation supporting your establishment in the state, such as voting registration and records, in-state driver license, and whether other family members have moved with you. Don't expect this process to be easy.